Online reviews: When do negative opinions boost sales?

Apr 15, 2014

When purchasing items online, reading customer reviews is a convenient way to get a real-world account of other people's opinions of the product. According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, negative reviews that are offset by a politeness-factor can actually help sell the item.

"Most of the research on consumer reviews has been on the content and volume of the message," write authors Ryan Hamilton (Emory University), Kathleen D. Vohs (University of Minnesota), and Ann L. McGill (University of Chicago Booth School of Business). "Our research looks at how the politeness with which a particular message is communicated affects consumer opinions."

In a series of five experiments, the authors examined how including a marker of politeness in a negative product review affected the image of both the reviewer and the product being reviewed. For example, phrases like "I'll be honest," and "I don't want to be mean, but…" are ways to soften the arrival of bad news and warn a reader or listener that negative information is coming.

In one experiment, participants were asked to read a page-long description of a luxury wristwatch. Two versions of the product description were used, one of which added this polite customer complaint, "I don't want to be mean, but the band pinches a bit." Results indicated that people were willing to pay more for the wristwatch if they read the description that included the marker of politeness ($136 versus $95).

The study also asked participants to complete a survey evaluating the "personality" of the brand. Results showed that the review using the marker of caused the brand to be seen as more honest, cheerful, down-to-earth, and wholesome than the same review without the polite customer complaint.

"Our research raises the intriguing possibility that brands might benefit when polite customers write reviews of their products—even when those reviews include negative opinions," the authors conclude.

Explore further: Wordplay persuades for customer reviews of truffles, but not laundry detergent

More information: Ryan Hamilton, Kathleen D. Vohs, and Ann L. McGill. "We'll Be Honest, This Won't Be the Best Article You'll Ever Read: The Use of Dispreferred Markers in Word-of-Mouth Communication." Journal of Consumer Research: August 2014.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

The perils of polite misunderstandings

Oct 11, 2011

Your friend debuts a questionable haircut and asks what you think of it. Brutal honesty would definitely hurt his feelings, so what do you say? Most people in this situation would probably opt for a vague or evasive response, ...

Are Southern death-row inmates more polite?

Apr 08, 2014

Southern states are known to uphold a culture of honor and adhere to traditional politeness norms, but does this hold true for death-row convicts? A new article published today in SAGE Open finds that Southern death-row offend ...

Recommended for you

Extra time in math class has its minuses, scholar says

22 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Eric Taylor, a PhD student at Stanford University's Center for Education Policy Analysis, found that students who spent more of the school day in math class had higher math scores, but the gains ...

Help wanted: Principals who love change

Jul 17, 2014

Training principals for new roles is key to U.S. Department of Education school reforms, according to a new report by SMU researchers. But insufficient training and support for principals to meet the new expectations is leading ...

User comments : 0